I’ve seen ’em all. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The amount of fan adoration this franchise receives is unlike many in modern Hollywood, rivaling that of the Star Wars franchise or many of Disney’s animated classics. Because of this, many are subject to a very heavy bias when looking at this franchise through an objective lens. While I was made aware of various scenes from Jones’s adventures through parodies and references in other media, never have I actually sat down and watched the films until about a month ago, so there’s no nostalgic bias to be found here (for once). With the occasion of finishing the franchise (until 2020), I felt it’d be interesting to share a fresh perspective as to the weight of these (mostly) ’80s classics. And as the title implies, the theme here is inconsistency.
Referenced somewhat recently here, I did not care much for Temple of Doom. While user ratings for the film are fairly divided, with the more general perspective being positive, I found it to be a fairly insipid viewing. The inclusion of Short Round and Willie completely tampered any potential the film may have had if it didn’t focus so keenly on gross-out humor and silly popcorn theatrics. They ultimately had no place in the film, provided little chemistry with Jones himself, and had as much depth to their personality as characters from Sesame Street. This harshness towards these two characters specifically is due to their influence on the film’s tone, providing more of a comedic approach instead of a serious one. This would be excusable if the comedy was at all funny, but it’s not.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets a lot more backlash from fans for “ruining” the franchise. Critics gave it decent marks, but user score is typically fairly low, and it was even desecrated on an episode of South Park. Once again, this bunny with no nostalgic bias watched the film with an open mind, and while I think the film is bad, I thought Temple of Doom was worse overall. I thought Temple of Doom’s second act was better than Crystal Skull, but its first act was so horribly misguided that it nearly destroyed the whole experience for me. Crystal Skull has a sort of quality that almost hides behind the greatness of its prequels while trying to be so over-the-top that no one would ever accuse it of being so similar. It’s this absurdness that brings its quality down for many trying to take the film seriously, which it does a decent job at in the first half. Still, with enough references to fill a house, it can’t quite shake the foundations of a soft reboot, catering to newcomers while titillating fans of the franchise.
In my mind, two of the films in a four-film franchise are bad. Two out of four; that’s half the franchise. Not only that, but they’re the second and fourth films, respectively, causing a wave-like effect of turbulent highs and lethargic lows. One is good, one is bad, one is good, one is bad. Without the perspective of a diehard fan that grew up on the films proclaiming Crystal Skull to be the black sheep of the franchise, one can say that the series has always been flawed to some degree, and its consistency is seriously questionable, both in terms of overall quality and the pace of such within each individual film.
What made the Indiana Jones films so enjoyable was the constant focus of thrilling action, the wonders of adventure and mystery, and the human drama that came with the characters along the way. This is fairly common knowledge to many, but pulling this off effectively is no easy feat. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade have a good number of things in common, including the factors mentioned above. With lots of semi-realistic action, lovable character interaction, and a nose for gritty attitude, they both accomplished a mixed tone of light and dark that boded well for characters to behave as well as they did, with a lot of focus on memorable scenes and noticeable, subtle development. Not to mention, the bond between characters in both pictures, specifically Jones and Marion, as well as Jones and his father, almost single-handedly carry the torch for emotional appeal, seeing as both pairs have some friction between them. There’s a potent humanistic element that makes the adventures feel real and all the more grand for it.
Any more on Temple of Doom would be ad nauseam. Crystal Skull harbors a little character enthusiasm, though struggles to find any balance with the realistic qualms of Jones’s antics. Surviving a nuke by sitting in a fridge. Killer ants with a penchant for human flesh. Aliens. It goes above and beyond to entertain, however, it becomes more of a chore to take any of it to heart when it feels so jadedly superficial. The Indiana Jones movies were always somewhat silly, but Crystal Skull takes it to such levels of ridiculousness that Kali-Ma! seems like a morning stroll in the park. Everything about each scene feels so forced, so maniacally enthusiastic about being able to appeal to everyone that it loses some of its identity. In this sense, I can understand how the latest entry “ruined” the franchise to many. For me, the franchise couldn’t be ruined because it was never a stable library of greatness in the first place.
Wrapping up, there is an indistinguishable charm that the Indiana Jones franchise manages to capture half the time. Even in the worst of times, there’s enough of a semblance of good merriment to hold over any person not so sternly idolizing of the whole product. I suppose the point of this post made into simplest of explanations is that the franchise isn’t perfect prior to a certain point. It’s important to look at things as single products, then add the outside context later on. How much this context influences one’s opinion is dependent on the individual, but one shouldn’t disregard one or the other entirely. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t great, but neither was Temple of Doom, and some didn’t even care for Last Crusade. Whatever shoots the sword-slinger is for anyone to decide. Just don’t be so picky.